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Wave of Lottery money brings sea-change to Rathlin

13 June 2014

Support from the Big Lottery Fund has helped to spark a community revival on Rathlin, the only inhabited island off the coast of Northern Ireland. Nigel Tilson reports

It’s remote, unspoilt and has scenery to rival anywhere in the world.

spring flowers at Rathlin harbour

Spring flowers at Rathlin harbour

But there’s nothing backward-looking about the 120-strong community who call Rathlin Island home.

The island off the County Antrim coast has a community association  whose commitment and energy would put much larger organisations to shame.

Islander Michael Cecil is chairman of Rathlin Development and Community Association, which has also attracted a loyal force of more than 40 volunteers.

Back in 2008 the association received a grant of over £300,000 from Big Lottery Fund, and Michael says that helped to spark a sea-change in the island’s collective psyche.

The money paid for a full-time community development officer, David Quinney Mee, who commutes to the island from Ballycastle everyday on the ferry.

Building relationships has been a key part of David’s work and has helped the association attract support from government departments and statutory agencies.

Michael says: “The confidence of the people and the capacity to get things done have increased.

“In the past people living on Rathlin would have expected others to look after their interests, but now they want to shape their own future.”

David Quinney Mee

David Quinney Mee

As a result, several events have become regular fixtures on Rathlin’s calendar, including the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival and Halloween and New Year celebrations.

Michael explains: “The festivals attract lots of visitors and going forward we want to improve the tourism offering. We want to build on the 30,000 visitors who make the trip to Rathlin each year.”

The organisation is planning to build a wind turbine on the island which, it hopes, could generate enough profit each year to pay for its work. It is all part of the islanders’ desire to become self-sustaining.

Other projects in the pipeline include negotiating community management of the Manor House, the iconic guesthouse at Rathlin’s harbour.  The association is also aiming to transform an old Kelp Store into a marine research and education centre.

The group has also received Big Lottery-funding to encourage the creation of social enterprises and it has been receiving advice from the Scottish Islands on setting up such businesses.

Michael said that without the Big Lottery Fund money the improvements seen in recent years would not have happened.

“The attitude of the people here has changed dramatically. People on the island are now more determined to improve from within. In fact our new motto is ‘thriving from within’,” he added.

 

 

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